Happy 24th Birthday, Zouk

Happy 24th Birthday, Zouk

Clubbing milestone

Text: Tracy Phillips

Image: Zouk

Weighing in on where Zouk stands on its 24th birthday this May, Tracy Phillips recognises the club's cultural significance and offers a heartfelt wish for its future

After 24 years, what's next for Zouk? When the lifespan of a club is typically two years, 24 is a veritable miracle. I can only name three other dance establishments that have been around as long: Sub Club in Glasgow, Ministry of Sound in London and Pacha in Ibiza. All are historically relevant for their contribution to the growth of a global dance scene, but I think that none can match the cultural significance to their cities like Zouk has had on Singapore. 

Located far from the roots of electronic music and in a country so young it's just celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, Zouk was completely revolutionary. Back in 1991, Zouk opened amid a sea of Top 40 clubs and it was one of the only avenues for underground culture to exist and thrive in Singapore. This melting pot of people, ideology and aesthetics inspired an entire generation, many of whom are now counted amongst our top creative talents. Over the years, Zouk did a great job of re-investing into the business and adapting its concepts, music policy and working partnerships to maintain relevant and stay popular with the next generation of 18-year-olds, right up to its current day.

However, times are different now, and the scene has become more sophisticated. While Zouk remains at the pinnacle of clubbing in Singapore, it can hardly be called revolutionary. Electronica as a music genre is no longer underground. In fact, its cheesier end of the spectrum, EDM, is considered to be today's Top 40 tunes. We don't have to rely on foreign DJs to introduce new sounds — our local musicians are on top of most music trends but we still have guest DJs playing each week all over town. Most importantly, audiences are much more discerning and, with full access to music all the time (hello Shazam and Spotify), people can easily decide if they want in or out. Or better yet, just want to hop.

The thing with the clubbing crowd, is that they grow up. The old strategy was that Velvet Underground was where you would graduate to as you got older or when the big room crowd and sound became too much. It was designed to appeal to a more mature audience, with a very different music and crowd policy. Frankly, I think this is where Zouk has faltered in recent times.

I might go as far to ask whether the last Velvet Underground renovation was a bit of a misstep? Expanding the Velvet Lounge to appeal to more of a bottle service crowd may have seemed like good business, especially with the popularity of Massive Collective's outlets at the time. But for fans of dancing, Velvet Dance's new layout is a challenge. LEDs wall to ceiling are cool but a club's lifeblood really needs a strategically placed bar, console and space for people to move. Velvet still books good acts I want to catch every so often — thanks to Wayne Lee, Zouk's music director — but I miss the magic of the old space.  It didn't have all the bells and whistles, but there was more vibe.

In keeping with the times, I think Zouk has had to become more commercial to keep the younger fanbase necessary for a club of its size. It's no longer the champion of the most progressive sounds — the crowd it drew for that has splintered off to other venues like Kyo and Kilo Lounge.

I'm looking forward to Zouk's future plans. Last year's closure scare was just that, scary! I simply can't and don't want to imagine a Singapore without Zouk. There's a very good chance I would have left the country had it never existed. I'm already excited about the possibilities of where they may move and what they'll create because there can only ever be one super club in Singapore and Zouk's it. In the meantime, I'll make do with some upcoming club nights that are in the pipeline, promising fresh genres for the music heads (hint, Lush99.5 is involved in one of these upcoming series).

So here's a big thank you for the continued good times. I look forward to your next exhilarating incarnation. May you trust in your vision and take risks only an institution like Zouk can. If you do, I believe you can drive the entire industry forward just like you have for the past two decades. Happy 24th Zouk xxx